Facebook's graph search takes advantage of a crucial niche between search and social - but to make the most of it will we need to sacrifice our privacy?



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The two powers that are search and social go hand in hand. Search is always there to provide you with what you’re looking for, but doesn’t include those undiscovered nuggets of information that social media does (it’s always exciting to find out the cute guy in your building likes the same geeky show as you!)

Social on the other hand is bursting with titbits of information, but lacks relevance when sometimes you just want to get straight to the point. So the solution? Launch a channel that combines the best of both worlds.

First we had Google+, the nifty social portal created by a search engine giant. Marked as a rival to Facebook, Google+ has slowly become more popular since its launch in 2011 with more and more of those little red plus boxes emerging on social sharing toolbars.

Now we go the other way, a massive player in the social media market launching a search tool. Launched by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, Graph Search allows you to “find more of what you’re looking for on Facebook and discover fun connections between people, places and things.”

In theory, Graph Search could be what we’re missing digitally right now – a tool which allows you to engage as you search. You’ve just moved to a new city and want to join the local swimming club – hop on Graph Search and not only will you find a swimming club nearby, you might also find someone to go with. But there’s just one problem which Facebook seem to have overlooked – privacy.

In order to really push the search part of social search you need to expand into other networks too, not just your own. Would you really want to learn about Aristotle’s thoughts on existence from what your friend posted on Facebook? Probably not. In order to get the most from your search results, you need to expand beyond your personal social network (and this includes friends of friends of friends!) and tap into the big wide world of experts, bloggers and teachers – people that you don’t have a connection to.

This is where Facebook Graph Search hits a dead end. Either Facebook keeps its new tool private, thus restricting the user from powerful search information, or it opens up network after network allowing anyone to divulge any piece of information that they like. And given prior attitudes towards privacy at the company, the latter seems like it could be the more likely option.

One Facebook user has set out to prove just how probing Graph Search can be. ‘Actual
Facebook Graph Searches’ is a new tumblr that has popped up this week, which seeks to portray how a range of controversial searches can be made public. Examples so far include Tesco employees who likes horses and Jewish mothers who like bacon.

Of course, Facebook has explained (and keeps having to explain) that the only content which will be viewable on Graph Search is that which you decide to share. But, unless you visit your privacy settings every few months, can anyone truly remember what they said they would and wouldn’t share with the largest social network in the world?

The truth is that only time will tell. Currently, Graph Search is only available to the users in the USA with the tool rolling out to other countries in the next few weeks. Even though personally I’m somewhat on the fence with Graph Search, I do tip my hat to Facebook for taking on this new social/search landscape. We’re about to enter a new chapter in the way we interact online, and who can blame Facebook for trying to be at the forefront of it?

What do you think of Graph Search? Are you worried about your privacy settings online? Do you think this is the brink of a new digital era of search and social? Tell us in the comments below.